March 3, 2024


Although medical sex selection for genetic diseases has a halo of respectability amongst practitioners of reproductive medicine, social sex selection is far more controversial. In many countries, including Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the UK, it is banned. Widespread awareness of the growing distortion of the sex ratio in India and China after years of sex selective abortions has put the idea in a very bad odour. (Amazingly, sex selective abortion is also banned in these two countries, too.) However, libertarian bioethicists are arguing more and more loudly that preventing couples from choosing boys or girls is a violation of a "presumption in favour of liberty". While aborting girls may be a problem in Asian countries, Western couples often prefer girls. There seems to be little danger of skewing the sex ratio. Why forbid it, then, they ask.

The latest to take up the cudgels is Edgar Dahl, a German with strong links to Australian bioethicists. Writing in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online, he offers 10 reasons why a ban is immoral. Amongst them are the following:

  • Sex selection is "playing God" — but this is an explicitly religious claim, and religious people must not "use the coercive powers of the law to impose their theology upon others.
  • Sex selection is not medicine, but a lifestyle choice — but no one is suggesting that cosmetic surgery should be banned because it offers personal benefits. Dahl also uses the widespread acceptance of cosmetic surgery to counter another objection: that sex selection is a misallocation of scarce medical resources.
  • Sex selection in the West will send the wrong message to Asian countries — but such messages will be ignored, says Dahl. "As long as there are religious and economical incentives for preferring boys over girls, our moral pleas will fall on deaf ears on the subcontinent."
  • Sex selection will lead to designer babies — but what is wrong with this, anyway? "I am sorry," writes Dahl. "but I cannot see that this would herald the end of civilisation as we know it."